Two Atlanta rap heavyweights add on-screen gaming roles to soundtrack beats
By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
Big Boi (left) and B.o.B (right)
When thinking of rappers Big Boi and B.o.B, the word "mercenary" hardly comes to mind. However, the two (née Antwan Patton and Bobby Ray Simmons, respectively) came together for the current video game release of "Army of Two: Devil's Cartel." While the Atlanta rhyme spitters lent their bars for the video game soundtrack (including the recently released video for "Double or Nothing"), they also star in the game as masked crusaders protecting politicians from a drug cartel. While it's completely foreign to their day jobs, they are still fighting the good fight for hip-hop.
Big Boi's hip-hop veteran status has offered him the opportunity to jump genres while staying true to rap. 2012's "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors" included contributions from beyond the rap realm, including Little Dragon and Phantogram (Big Boi is working on a collaborative album with Phantogram titled "Big Grams"). B.o.B also appeared on the album on the track "Shoes for Running." While Bobby Ray has successfully merged rap with pop thanks to a string of hits – most notably "Airplanes" with Paramore's Hayley Williams – he'll also be working with Big Boi on his third studio album (which is near completion). In speaking with Big Boi and B.o.B, we learned about the first time they heard each other's' music, how to successfully transcend hip-hop, and what it means to be a "Ram-bro."
MSN Music: How did you two come together for "Army of Two: Devil's Cartel'?
B.o.B: Well, they actually reached out to us, and they found us the most fitting for the job description. Know what I'm saying, two Atlanta players of the stature of ourselves. So they got us incorporated in the game. I mean, it started as kind of just being involved in it just on a collaborative level, and then it really grew from a song to a music video to being in the game as characters.
Big Boi: Full participation.
B.o.B: Full participation.
And you just released the video for "Double or Nothing."
Big Boi: "Double or Nothing." One of the first times we have a live-action video game and live-action MCs in the video together. So we have our video game personas and us, parallel. You know, it's two different dimensions of it, so it's really dope.
What are you two doing in the video game?
B.o.B: Well, basically we are, I guess, like mercenaries
Big Boi: Black Rambos, if you will.
Big Boi: Ram-bros I like to call it.
B.o.B: Yes, to adequately put it. And we're protecting the politicians from the drug cartel, the Mexican drug cartel, the devil's cartel. I mean, we're just badass with the tools and with all types of skills, a special set of skills.
Now would you normally be protecting politicians in real life?
Big Boi: Uh, I don't think the politicians would need our protection. They have like, Blackwater and all kind of unsanctioned military protection.
B.o.B: I am actually a politician in real life. My name's Barack Oganja.
Big Boi: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, I'll be, uh ... I'm just part of the Tea Party. The Tea Baggers.
So are you both big gamers?
Big Boi: Pretty much so. You know, when we ain't in the studio, we spend a lot of time on the tour bus and, thus, there comes the championship tournaments of different video games with the guys in the band. You gamble and you have fun, so this is going to be a good one to take on the road.
B.o.B: For me, I'm kind of off and on. I went from being a die-hard from "Grand Theft Auto" to "Blur" on Xbox to "Halo" to "Call of Duty: Black Ops," all type of stuff. But this, the thing that you have to realize about this game is that this is a co-op game. It's called "Army of Two." So, you have to be playing with somebody. You have to collaborate.
Big Boi: Yeah, because you can't lift certain doors or get over certain obstacles because you have to pull your partner up over certain things and you can't do that with one person, unless you holding two joysticks and you playing two games by yourself like that.
That's a lot of camaraderie too. Teamwork.
Big Boi: Yeah, definitely. That's why it's called "Army of Two," not "Army of You."
So, in the '90s, the rapper Last Emperor released this track called "Secret Wars," and it was about rappers going against video game characters and comic book characters. He actually did a part one and a part two. If you two could pick who you would go to battle against in a video game, which character would it be?
Big Boi: Ooh! Yeah, that's dope. I'm going to have to go against ... what's the boy name? Megatron, on the "Transformers" game. I always wanted to kick his ass. How about that? I want a piece of Megatron.
B.o.B: Me, I would probably ... You know the two from "Street Fighter," the two Asian fighters? I wouldn't really go against them, though. It'd be more like a collaborative thing.
The two of you both transcended hip-hop, especially mixing certain sounds. Going in all different directions outside of just traditional rap, how do you feel like that's benefited you?
Big Boi: To me, just going outside of your comfort zone, for one, is gratifying in a way that you create a whole different sound and it keeps you excited. When you start going into unchartered territory, you create new genres of music. That's what it's all about. To keep the art form going and going. You don't want to stay stagnant in one spot and doing songs with the same people, over and over again with the same sound. I mean, like, I wouldn't want to do it anymore.
Do you guys feel like broadening your horizons has brought you opportunities like having your own video game?
B.o.B: Definitely. I mean, it's so crazy, because I remember when I was playing ... I think I was playing "Madden" [football] ... I was 7, and I heard Big Boi's song. [Sings] "Sometimes life can get you down ..."
Big Boi: Yeah!
B.o.B: So it's just crazy going from that to actually being a character in a game, playing alongside Big and it's just crazy. I think you really do have to have an open mind to creativity because sometimes creativity influences music from outside the world of entertainment.
Bob, how did you feel the first time you heard OutKast?
B.o.B: I was 6 years old. I was either 5 or 6. I think I was 5.
Big Boi: Boy, stop! That's hard.
B.o.B: And I heard [sings], "Throw your hands in the air, wave 'em like you just don't care!" [from OutKast's "ATLiens"]. And then like, the thing that I remember is that [sings], "Ahhh-ahhh-ahhh!"
Big Boi: The melody.
B.o.B: That s--- crazy. It all went together. I was walking through the hallway in school singing it.
Big Boi: That's hard as hell. You were like 6 or something, which means Dre and I were like, teenagers. That's hard, man.
And Big Boi, how did you feel when you first heard B.o.B?
Big Boi: It was jamming. It was jamming. What's the song? "Haters!" [Sings] "Haters everywhere we go! Haters everywhere we go!" Jamming. "Down to the ground!" Melody.
B.o.B: That was so long ago. It's so crazy.
Big Boi: See, the stuff seems like a long time ago, but when you're in the groove of it, you just make good music. That's what it's about. As long as you don't get no facial lines and start looking old as hell in the face, you could still be a young man. Because you got rappers out here getting on at the age of 40. You feel me? Don't stop till you get enough.
Is it hard being mere mortals after being in a video game where you're with guns protecting politicians from the devil's cartel?
Big Boi: You never go back to being a mortal after you achieve superhero status.
Big Boi: Yeah, you never go back to that. It's always in you. Jedi rap s--- at its finest is what it is.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.